I've recently gotten into D&D5e and it may come up that continuing to play this summer will require me to be the DM at least part of the time. I'm at a point where other people doing the work of writing an adventure is appealing, so I'm thinking about running Curse of Strahd (the one that happens to be on the shelf in my FLGS, though I'm certainly open to alternatives). However, while I've GM'ed for other systems, and pored over the rulebooks enough to feel I could pull it off, I've never DM'ed for D&D before, so I'm not sure what to expect when it comes to balance.
Specifically, there are some players in my current group who made characters with a 14 in their primary class stat, because they liked the class abilities but also wanted to be good at other things for roleplaying/story reasons. I'd like to encourage this due to my personal style, but I'm also pretty sure that D&D rewards focus over breadth, at least as far as stats go, so I make sure my characters have a 16 (point buy) in primary combat/spellcasting ability plus at least 14 in secondary recommended ability. I believe this is about what is expected for low-op games.
As far as what I mean by "balance": it seems that at levels 1-2 it's hard to keep everyone conscious the whole time since they have so few hit points; better to anticipate a KO or two and bring your healing. But other than that, I'd like the encounter-building guidelines in the DMG to be accurate, for example this text from the DMBR p. 56:
Hard. A hard encounter could go badly for the adventurers. Weaker characters might get taken out of the fight, and there’s a slim chance that one or more characters might die.
I know these are pretty broad statements and CR can be misleading but I assume some playtesting has been done so it's accurate-ish on average. ("CR and expected encounter difficulty mean nothing, the only way to balance encounters is to have an encyclopedic knowledge/experience of all monsters" would be a disappointing but acceptable frame challenge, if true.) Overall I'm looking to avoid PC death but have a few "crap, we need to scramble/retreat/plan in advance for this" moments, and I'd like them to happen roughly where the adventure writers intended (assuming that adventures are written with some kind of dramatic pacing in mind, subject to random variation introduced by dice.)
I realize this may suggest D&D isn't really the right game, but right now I'm excited about the cool abilities and I like the idea of the system doing most of the work for you (and not having to learn/teach a different game). So if I do end up running D&D with these players, I'll probably put more time into helping them pick races, classes, and abilities that work well together mechanically... but how far do I need to push it if they want to do something different, if I'm looking to avoid re-scaling every encounter?